State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan on Monday said the apparent collusion between an investigator and a judge in the high-profile Bezeq corruption case was an “exception,” calling on the public to avoid conflating the “very, very inappropriate” incident with the broader legal system.
“This is an exceptional incident, and I am not aware of a similar one,” Nitzan told a Knesset panel. “Even the district prosecutors aren’t aware [of similar exchanges] and we must be very careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
“There are exceptions in every system, and we must be careful not to call it the norm,” he added, in a special meeting of the Knesset’s Constitution, Justice and Law Committee to discuss the casual texting exchange on remand extensions, revealed by Channel 10 last week.
His comments came a day after the president of the Supreme Court announced an official inquiry into the relationship between judges and law enforcement officials, on Sunday. In announcing the committee of inquiry, Justice Esther Hayut said that a preliminary investigation had revealed “a series of personal and systemic failures.”
Nitzan on Monday further insisted that while “very, very inappropriate,” the exchanges did not warrant criminal action and did not compromise the rights of the detainees held in the case.
The Knesset panel chairman, Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky, also expressed concern that the case could erode public trust in the courts.
If Israelis lose faith in the legal system, “I fear for the fate of democracy,” he said.
Last week, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked initiated disciplinary action against Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz, who appeared to coordinate remand rulings for the suspects implicated in a corruption case involving the Israeli telecom giant.
Judge Eliezer Rivlin, the ombudsman handling complaints against judges, ruled there would be no criminal proceedings against Poznansky-Katz, but recommended that she face a disciplinary hearing over the “highly inappropriate” exchange.
He found that the relationship between the two continued for several months and soon turned into an inappropriate dialogue. “During the months of June, July, December 2017, January and February 2018, Shaham-Shavit addressed the judge directly several times regarding the cases he was dealing with,” Rivlin wrote.
Obtained by Channel 10 last week, the text messages between Poznansky-Katz and Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shacham-Shavit sparked accusations that state officials were obstructing justice, and the suspects would not receive a fair trial.
In the exchange, Shacham-Shavit told Poznansky-Katz that the Securities Authority intended to ask that some of the suspects in the probe be released and holding be remanded further.
“Try and act surprised,” he wrote.
“I’m practicing my surprised face,” she responded, before apparently agreeing to the request.
A full transcript of the messages released several days later, however, appeared to be less damning than initially reported — when only a snippet was available — showing that Poznansky-Katz and Shacham-Shavit were mainly discussing case logistics.
The Bezeq corruption investigation, dubbed Case 4000, involves suspicions that Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant fawning coverage to the family of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in exchange for the prime minister, who was also communications minister at the time, advancing regulations benefiting him.
On Friday, the prime minister and his wife, Sara, were questioned for the first time in the case. After the five-hour interrogation, investigation officials reportedly said that Netanyahu will be hard-pressed to explain away the “concrete” suspicions and “solid” evidence against him.
Police believe the evidence they have, including testimonies, physical evidence, and audio recordings, directly ties the Netanyahus to the alleged quid-pro-quo scheme, according to Hadashot news.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in these cases.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.